Sweet sounds for the season

"On a frosty winter's night, in tiny villages dotted across North Wales, there's a local tradition," goes the spec for what must be the most bucolically addictive programme of the season, Keeping Tradition Alive at Christmas (21 December to Christmas Eve, 10pm, Radio 2). Billy Bragg and Kate Rusby praise the "centuries-old habit of singing secular carols" - mostly in the pub. Then, just when you thought you'd died and gone to wine-gum heaven, Charles Dance dims the lights and reads from Roald Dahl's anthology of short stories Someone Like You, the jewel of which is surely "Lamb to the Slaughter", in which a put-upon wife murders her husband with a frozen leg of lamb (21 December to Christmas Day, 10.45am, Radio 4).

In Exchanges at the Frontier (23 December, 8.30pm, World Service), A C Grayling talks to the Cern nuclear physicist Tejinder Virdee about his consuming quest to discover the God particle and his belief that it might change all our lives, a blast of blind faith equalled only by the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols live from King's College, Cambridge (Christmas Eve, 3pm, Radio 4). "Each year the pattern of the scripture lessons is the same," reads this year's press release (a little regretfully, one muses), "beginning with the fall of Adam and concluding with the gospel of John."

For those woken moments later by concrete evidence of the origin of the mass of the universe (aka crazed toddlers), the Reverend Canon Roger
Royle presents, from 4am on Christmas Day on Radio 2, a "live, outside, three-hour marathon broadcast of seasonal music!". (Was "outside" absolutely necessary? It seems so needlessly taxing for the poor reverend.)

Meanwhile, Radio 1 hands Christmas Day over entirely, like Long John Silver's Black Spot, to 24 listeners, all given 15 minutes to present. It promises a chaotic noodling to be equalled only by Bon Jovi's Guide to Rock (Boxing Day, 5.05pm, Radio 2), in which Richie Sambora regales us with Yuleish chestnuts, such as the one about the time Bob Dylan tried to steal his guitar.

Starting on the 28th, Radio 3's Three Dark Days of Wagner (12pm) examines the "difficult sides" of the composer, an experience ideally followed by the electric-haired sardonicist Julian Rhind-Tutt reading Jeeves and the Yuletide Spirit (29 December, 3.30pm, Radio 4), a revoltingly listenable 15 minutes involving the noodlings of Tuppy Glossop and Bertie's crushee Miss Bobbie Wickham. New Year's Day's most imaginative programme easily goes to the World Service, with its Sound of Snow and Ice (8pm), in which a school for the visually impaired in Finland teaches children to master the art of using sound to navigate, covering its walls with objects that make stimulating sounds and leading them through forests to go ice fishing on frozen lakes (shades of Brothers Grimm?) in an attempt to hone the children's natural abilities.

But for those who like their New Year relatively local, the inimitable Two Lochs Radio, Britain's smallest commercial radio station, broadcasting from remote Wester Ross, offers The Year in Review (New Year's Day, 10am), recorded exclusively in interviews with residents, tourists and hardy walkers. Yet again, the UK's sweetest radio outfit reigns supreme.

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 21 December 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas Special